5th Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #’s 384, 727, 809
Text – Isaiah 40:31
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
It’s a common rhetorical question used in the hope of motivating someone to action. Maybe you’ve been asked to clean your room, but you haven’t gotten to it yet. What are you waiting for? We spend a lot of time waiting at doctor’s offices, in line for a cashier, during traffic jams. Young people can’t wait to grow up. Other people can’t wait to die.
What are you waiting for? Many Christians are waiting for the return of Christ & the end of all the brokenness of this world. In the sermon text, Isaiah writes about waiting for the Lord & he says that if you do so you shall renew your strength, mount up with wings like eagles, run & not be weary, walk & not faint.
Those blessings were a much bigger deal in Isaiah’s day. The common people had to walk everywhere. There were no cars to drive, no busses to ride in, & mounting up with wings like eagles was an impossible dream. You & I, we can fly thousands of miles in a matter of hours. Almost no one in our nation walks so far that they could faint.
What is it in your life that makes you weary, tired & faint? What is it that causes you to grow weak & to seek relief? To what, or to whom, do you turn when life knocks you down & you can’t get up? That is the you to whom Isaiah is writing. You’ve fallen & you can’t get up. You’re tired, weak, lonely & broken. Even the thought of walking causes you to faint.
Chapter 40 of Isaiah begins with great words of comfort. They are needed for God’s people because they directly follow the prediction of disaster in 39:5-7. Babylon would conquer their nation & carry them off into exile, & this because Israel had forsaken the true God. Life was so good, they’d gotten bored with worshipping Yahweh. They were living & walking & running in their own strength. Why bother waiting for the Lord when they could get it done without Him. Heading straight down that road to eternal destruction, their arrogance left God with no choice but to crush them. It was the only way He could save even some of them.
However, all that was still a couple hundred years into the future, & this particular prophecy of Isaiah concerned more than 70 years beyond that. The nation of Israel will have lost all hope, having been crushed under the weight of God’s judgment against their idolatry. But in the OT reading, Isaiah predicted that they would be released & allowed to return to Jerusalem.
Isaiah makes it clear; no ruler of any nation is anything compared to the Lord. Kingdoms & rulers pass away, but the Lord who is above all things rules & reigns forever. The only God to depend on is Yahweh. Salvation is found in Him alone. Verse 25 invites us to compare God to the things we trust in from our broken world.
When we compare our false “gods” to Yahweh, we see that the Lord is different, set apart from everyone & everything. He is holy, & Isaiah’s goal in pointing this out is to help you find more. Israel had been looking for more, but in the wrong places. Every human being on earth is looking for more – more life, more peace, more joy, more strength.
All of God’s children have been set on a journey home where there will be immeasurably more of everything that is good & right & salutary. If we search for that anywhere but in Christ, all we find is more death, but Satan disguises that death as life.
People who search for more in drugs & alcohol eventually realize it is only death in disguise. People searching for more in power & wealth finally discover it is death in disguise. People who sell their soul for fame & glory ultimately come to the very hollow & empty place of being truly alone as they die. All human beings are searching for more, but ultimately it can only be found in the resurrection from the dead to eternal life. Until then, here on earth, the only way we can truly get more is to wait upon the Lord. That’s what Isaiah was promising for the Israelites who would one day be released from exile in a foreign country – in Yahweh there will be more, so leave behind your false gods & return to your Creator.
In your life today, what are you waiting for? Isaiah urges you to wait for the Lord. During this very divine service, the Holy Spirit is calling you to wait for the Lord. Yet, living in an impatient society, we often think of waiting in terms like Pink Floyd used in their song TIME. The opening stanza begins:
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day;
You fritter & waste the hours in an off hand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town;
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
In those terms, we think of waiting as simply marking time. We see time as being wasted while waiting for someone or something to show us the way. However, waiting for the Lord is never simply marking time. Waiting for the Lord is actually faith in action. Faith is never about what we do. Faith is always about, & placed in, what God has done, still does, & will do.
In this text, Isaiah moves from a God who can do anything, whom no one & nothing can match, to a word of promise to His people – to care for them, to help them & to provide for them: “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.” (40:31 ESV)
Waiting for the Lord is a disciplined reliance upon God through faith. Hopeful waiting, not simply marking time, as Pink Floyd describes, involves three related ideas. 1) It is humble admission that there are no other effective options than to trust God; 2) It is refusal to engage in frantic worry; 3) It is confidence that Yahweh will act in justice & grace in His time.
Maybe you recall such a word from Ecclesiastes: “…God has made everything beautiful
for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (3:11 NLT) Because God has planted eternity in our hearts, we know this life cannot be all there is. There must be more, & faith in Christ tells us we cannot get there on our own. Faith also tells us that Jesus alone will get us there.
We simply need to wait for the Lord, but our impatience keeps getting in the way. We do want more, but we want it now! Our pride tells us, “I can do this myself.” Arrogance says, “I don’t need God. I have better things to do than submit to His will.”
Through the words of Isaiah, Yahweh Himself describes our rebellious attitude in verse 27: “Why do you say, O Jacob, & speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, & my right is disregarded by my God’?” (40:27 ESV) Because such people are unable, in any way, to rescue themselves, the infinite God determines to send His Son as a ransom payment for our sin.
In the fullness of His time, the One who, “…stretches out the heavens like a curtain, & spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22 ESV), confines Himself to a manger on the night of His birth. Here in the brokenness & pain of this world, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh & reveals Himself to us as our Savior from sin.
To have faith in God is to wait for His timing & not ours. As we learn to wait for the Lord, the power & strength of God shall work through us to accomplish His will. Waiting for the Lord means to lean heavily upon Him for strength & to bide your time until it comes. That waiting, that trust, that faith is a gift from, & brings glory & honor to, our Creator.
As Isaiah writes the opening questions of the OT reading, he assumes that the Spirit is working through the Word of forgiveness & is enabling the audience to understand Yahweh’s will & ways. Those who confess they are weak receive Yahweh’s strength & power. What I do not have & cannot do, that Christ has & can do. It is only in weakness & in need that sinners will receive faith in Christ. Confessing our sin acknowledges that truth. In the OT reading, Isaiah encourages us to turn away from anything besides Yahweh where we might seek strength. He encourages us to turn away from nations, idols, politicians & Hollywood stars to seek Yahweh alone. Then, as we wait for the Lord, He will use us to His glory.
In the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is 1st brought to the temple, we’re given two examples of faithful waiting for the Lord. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, & this man was righteous & devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, & the Holy Spirit was upon him.” (2:25 ESV)
“And there was a prophetess, Anna… [who] did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting & prayer night & day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God & to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (2:36-38 ESV)
The blessing of this OT lesson from Isaiah, is that it begins with a God who is almighty, who can do anything, whom no one & nothing can match. Then it moves to a word of promise for His people, to care for them, to help them & to provide for them. Yahweh chooses the weak in order to shame the strong. He did not come to save the righteous but to save sinners.
And sinners we are. We are suffering many of the effects of sin in this life, the chief of which is captivity to sin. By that I mean, you & I are not capable of stopping. We sin daily & we sin much. Yet, the OT words from Isaiah also promise us a deliverance from our exile; a deliverance from the world in which we live that is corrupted by sin.
Isaiah promises that God will renew our strength & deliver us, in many temporary ways here in this life, & in a permanent way in the next. To wait for the Lord to come in His final fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for the Lord to come in His fullness is above all else to act in His stead as fully as we know how. To wait for the Lord is, as best we can, to be Jesus to those who need us to be Jesus in their lives. And God specifically places people into our lives for that very reason, that we might be the means by which the Holy Spirit brings the Gospel to them. Waiting for the Lord is simply trusting that God is at work through all the circumstances of our lives. Amen.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in His shadow for life, say to the Lord, “My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!” And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, & hold you in the palm of His hand. The snare of the fowler will never capture you, & famine will bring you no fear; under His wings your refuge, His faithfulness your shield. And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, & hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen. LSB 727:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet